Agile as a comprehensive methodology is fairly new. Although many concepts that are now considered Agile predate the term, we can trace the unified theory to a gathering of software developers and technology managers in early 2001. Frustrated by traditional methods for managing software projects, they gathered in Snowbird, Utah to adopt a Manifesto for Agile Software Development:
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
Working software over comprehensive documentation;
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
Responding to change over following a plan.
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Agile adoption spread rapidly in the tech sector and is gaining traction in other business settings. By 2016, 94 percent of respondents to the annual State of Agile Survey reported using Agile in their enterprise. Those companies credit Agile for improvements in their:
The cover story of the May 2018 Harvard Business Review highlights how Agile has spread throughout the enterprise to areas such as “product development, marketing, and even HR.” And a 2016 Lexpert magazine article highlights successful Agile implementations in law firms and corporate legal teams.
Today, there are a number of specific methodologies that fall under the Agile umbrella. Some are primarily software and technology focused; examples include eXtreme Programming, Crystal, and DevOps. Others – like Scrum, Kanban, their hybrid ScrumBan, and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe – are often used throughout an organization.
I first became interested in applying Agile methods in a legal setting shortly after earning my J.D. in 2007. Before law school I spent nearly a decade in the technology sector, most of that with a single company, Getty Images. Over that time I participated in a number of technology projects, all of them using what we now think of as traditional, or waterfall, project management techniques.
My first legal job working for Getty Images as in-house counsel, a company where I’d spent over seven years before going to law school. It was great to be working again with many of the same teams and people I knew well. While I was away studying, however, Getty’s technology managers had shifted from a traditional, waterfall project management style to Agile management methods. I’d been vaguely aware of Agile prior to then (my wife works in technology), but being back at Getty was the first time I’d seen it in action. I quickly recognized one thing: it was WAY better.
It wasn’t perfect, of course, but the teams were delivering their projects more quickly and with less back-and-forth among constituents (who also seemed to get along better). It yielded results, too: Getty at the time was responding to the rise of social image sharing and a corresponding shift in the photography marketplace. Agile development helped the company to adapt its strategies and stay ahead of shifting customer expectations.
When I transitioned to private practice, I experimented with Agile methods in my own IP boutique. I wrote my first article on Agile for Lawyers for the ABA’s Law Practice Today in 2015. Eventually I began to teach Agile methods to other legal professionals informally, then professionally. In the process, I’ve learned how to translate and adapt Agile concepts so they work well for legal teams.
Today I’ve taught Agile – plus complementary management methods like Lean, Jobs To Be Done, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking – to thousands of legal professionals on teams of all types and sizes. Over the course of my work, and of observing Agile’s evolution in other industries, I’ve come to recognize four core principles for an Agile legal practice:
Stay tuned for additional posts diving into each one of these principles in more detail.
Note: This article is adapted from a chapter I contributed to the ARK Group book, Tipping Point: Transformation and Innovation in the Legal Department.
The whole book is $195, but you can now get my entire chapter for free by clicking here.
Here’s how it came to be:
I was at ABA Techshow a few weeks ago watching Jess Birken & Charity Anastasio deliver a talk about Kanban for Lawyers, which I think is great. My goal has always been to start a movement around Agile tools for legal professionals, so I love that others are spreading the gospel. Jordan Couch was in the room, who has also been teaching Kanban a fair bit lately.
Here’s the thing: I know I taught Kanban to Jess and Jordan, and I’m pretty sure Jordan taught Charity (or maybe it was Greg McLawsen, I’m not sure).
So I was standing in the back with the amazing Aastha Madaan (also an agile attorney) and I jokingly whispered to her, “I should start a video library of other people teaching my stuff.” Her response surprised me: Continue reading
Quality standards prevent mistakes.
As a standalone sentiment it seems like a no-brainier. Lawyers strive for quality: how often have you seen lawyer marketing with claims like “We provide our clients with the highest quality legal work,” or “We do quality work at an outstanding value”?
Of course we strive for quality. It’s why people hire professionals like us, and it’s what we’re trained to do (especially when it is drilled into us by our superiors).
Why, then, do lawyers keep messing up?Continue reading
Unless you’re a lone wolf, your project is going to have hand-offs.
Sorry, did I say “project?” I forgot for a moment that this is a legal blog. I meant “matter.” Or “case.” Or whatever else you call that “individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.”1 For consistency with the rest of the business world, let’s call it a project.Continue reading
For the past few years, I’ve been an associate at a small 4-attorney firm, my first out of law school. No support staff beyond a receptionist and a bookkeeper, and so I’m very used to doing my own everything.
I’ll be starting at a new firm in a couple weeks, that does actually have support staff–paralegals, an office manager, I’ll actually have a legal assistant to share. The responses in that other thread have made it very clear to me that an enormous amount of the work that I’ve been doing is work typically done by support staff, and so I’m going to have to get into the habit of letting them actually do their jobs in order to do mine. I know a big part of that will be how the new firm uses their support staff, and what the staff’s strengths and weaknesses are, but if anyone’s got any tips on learning how to make this kind of transition, I’d love to hear them.
My response is below.Continue reading
We’ve had some good conversations going on in the Agile Attorneys Worldwide Slack group lately, and I thought I’d publish a taste of what’s going on in there. If you haven’t joined yet, the signup form is here (and I’ll embed it again at the bottom of this post.)
This particular back-and-forth was between me and immigration attorney Greg McLawsen.
mclawsen: More a Lean than Agile question, but figured I’d toss it out here. We’re experimenting with a new web-only storefront for our immigration firm (soundimmigration.com) and are testing this core presumption: clients are willing to work with us in the web-only (no office) environment. We’re driving a reasonable amount of organic traffic (~140 unique/day), but folks aren’t setting up many consults and those who are haven’t converted to clients. I’m not sure if the “problem” is who is finding the site (a lot of the popular content is probably being read by people who have already filed their paperwork) or if folks are rejecting our concept. Any creative thoughts about how to tease out which it is?Continue reading
I just wrote my first article for Lawyerist, Removing Bottlenecks to Productivity and Profit. In it, I discuss the single bottleneck concept behind the Theory of Constraints (check out my earlier posts here and here). I also write about the importance of measuring a few key things within your workflow (but not too many), and then using the data you glean to not only tell whether your improvement worked within the context of the thing you were trying to improve, but, more importantly, whether that local improvement succeeded in improving your practice overall.
I just got done presenting at the Ohio State Bar Legal Technology Conference where I tried out a new idea: Kanban in a Box. I only made a couple of prototypes and I gave them both away, but I’m working on putting a few more together and making them available on this site. In the mean time, I thought I’d post the packing list:Continue reading
I’ve talked with several attorneys lately who have all told me a version of the same story. It goes like this:
“I don’t have time to do a bunch of process improvement work, but a few times a year something about my workflow drives me crazy and I resolve to fix the whole darn thing. So I go to my white board to sketch out the different parts of my process and get to work making them better. Starting at the beginning, I take a hard look at my client intake system and make a few changes to improve it. But it is always harder than I think it’s going to be, and by then the client work is usually piling up. So I go back to being a lawyer and never really get around to improving the other stages. Until a few months later when it starts to drive me crazy again…”
There are, of course, several problems with this approach. Continue reading